Four women, four chiefships : case studies in the divergent choices and negotiations with power of Amakhosikazi in nineteenth-century Natal.
Jackson, Eva Aletta.
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Although women’s status, roles and leadership opportunities in precolonial southern Africa, including within the Zulu kingdom, have been contested amongst historians for several decades, this study focuses specifically on these issues in chiefdoms that by the early colonial period were situated in the Natal region; an empirical gap. While largely focusing on four women who lived in early colonial Natal – Heshepi kaPhakathwayo, Mbalasi Makhanya, Dalida Dube, and Vundlazi MaSenca (of the Qwabe, Makhanya, Qadi and Izinkumbi chiefdoms respectively) – it also considers the experiences of numerous other women in these and other chiefly families (amakhosikazi). Detailing their different contexts and personal experiences, the study also locates them as female members of chiefly elites (whether of large or small chiefdoms) attempting in various ways to re-establish or sustain polities in the difficult context of early colonial Natal. Several of the women considered in the study had migrated southward following military clashes with the Zulu kingdom and the deaths of their husbands and/or fathers, and the chapters consider how the status of widow had vastly different implications across their different contexts. It draws preliminary conclusions regarding thematic threads in these case studies: the (exceptional) opportunities for specific women to own cattle; chiefly women’s opportunities for political influence including through strategic alliances with their sons and daughters; some chiefly women’s experience of simultaneous social prominence and social marginality; and (a previously unresearched area) the few women who became chiefs themselves in and near Natal in this time period. The study therefore provides the first conclusive evidence that Vundlazi was one of at least eight women in and near Natal who took up their deceased husbands’ chiefships (ranging from leadership of a large paramountcy to very small polities). An outline is suggested of the trajectory (and disappearance) of female chiefship in nineteenth-century Natal; and of conflicted colonial stances towards female chiefs within a context of patriarchal hierarchy and indirect rule in Natal. The thesis considers how these case studies relate to debate on precolonial gender relations, and contribute to the ongoing process of understanding how codified customary law was experienced from the 1870s onward.